history showing the living conditions, social behaviors and industrialization in Mississippi, comparing white and black issues from a period from 1944 -1964.
Mississippi 1944 TO1964
To understand Mississippi, you have to understand this.... The figures and charts and diagrams which point out Mississippi's economic position do not mean a damn thing to us. Most Mississippians will turn their backs on the facts and say, "Well, you don't see many people retiring from here and moving to New York City..".. They say, if we have large-scale industry, we'll have crime and dope, and it will change our southern lifestyle, and it will defile our rivers and pollute our air, and it will bring in a lot of damn outsiders with all their strange ideas (Krane and Shaffer 3).
Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the nation. Even today, the state boasts "a judicial system in which 70% of the prisoners are black, while the state's population is only 36% black, and a state per capita income that is only two-thirds of the national average" (Krane and Shaffer 4). Mississippi's history has always been a bit behind the times, and the period of 1944 through 1964 was no exception. The state made some great strides ahead in many areas, but still managed to lag behind the rest of the nation in many areas.
In the 20-year period from 1944 to 1964 Mississippi changed dramatically for both the state's white and black residents. In 1944, Mississippi was still mostly an agrarian state, still built on the foundations of cotton plantations. In fact, laborers (mostly poor blacks) on the plantations actually increased before the war, "Between 1930 and 1940, the proportion of agricultural wage laborers on Yazoo-Mississippi plantations increased from 18 to 42%" (Seavoy 475). In effect, time stood still in Mississippi. Cotton was still king, and the blacks were still oppressed. When Anne Moody, a black writer who was born in Mississippi in 1940, describes her childhood, it could have been written a hundred years before when slavery was still legal. "I'm still haunted by dreams of the time we lived on Mr. Carter's plantation. Lots of Negroes lived on his place. Like Mama and Daddy they were all farmers. We all lived in rotten two-room shacks. But ours stood out from the others because it was up on the hill with Mr. Carter's big white house..." (Moody 1).
One writer, writing about his boyhood home of Mississippi said he discovered,
The people of his native region were no longer immune to "the changes and fears of the world." Beyond that, they were also subject to "special stresses" arising from the [Mississippi] Delta's unpredictable economy and its racially imbalanced society where, as Cohn explained, the "Negro question" was "almost without counterpart in the United States
Clearly, race was and still is an important issue surrounding the history of Mississippi, but there are other issues that set the state apart, and most of them are economic challenges the state has not yet met.
After World War II ended in 1945, times changed in Mississippi. Mechanized farming ruled out the need for as many laborers on the cotton plantations, and after the war, the economy in Mississippi had improved, so more black farm workers left the plantations and moved to the cities for better opportunities. "Rural farm population in Mississippi fell 19% in the 1940s while the urban population increased 38%" (Farell). The Second World War definitely improved the economy of Mississippi. Industry moved to the area, and that meant new jobs, better pay, and an improved economy. "Significant societal changes accompanied the economic changes. For the first time, women played a significant role in the state's industrial workforce" (Farell). Many women continued working even after the war ended, thus forever changing the role of the "Southern Belle" in Mississippi society. Before women began working, they were sheltered and pampered, (this most applies to white women). After the war, women continued to add to the family income, while becoming more involved in the state's politics and policies. In fact, some industries prized women workers so highly, they hired them over men, even after the war was over, and more men returned to the job force. While industry and the economy improved, they were still far behind most other U.S. states.
The growth of Mississippi's economy during the war was very strong. Wages nearly tripled. Still Mississippi remained a poor state. It ranked last in the nation in per capita income before World War II and it ranked last at war's end. An inevitable decline in the economy occurred when defense plants and military bases closed after the war. But Mississippi's economy had permanently altered. The incredible dominance of agriculture over industry was over. In post-war years, the industrial, service, and professional sectors joined with agriculture to give Mississippi a more balanced economy (Farell).
It has been shown living conditions were extremely poor for most of Mississippi's black residents. They were not much better for any of the poor white sharecroppers of the state, who lived in similar conditions to the blacks, but at least worked their own land, no matter how meager it was. There were two very different classes in Mississippi during this time - the extremely poor, and the extremely wealthy. The wealthy landowners' lifestyles had not changed very much since the Civil War, either. They rebuilt their plantations, and went about the business of planting cotton again. The disparity between rich whites and the remainder of the poor society was great, and it created a huge gulf socially. There were racial differences to contend with, but there were also great gaps in the wage earning power of most of the residents of the state. It was clear Mississippi was on the way to a more modern society, but there were still many obstacles ahead. Unfortunately, part of Mississippi's history is the residents have been very wary of change, and so changing the way things were done in the state was a long, slow process, whether they were race based, economy based, or socially based.
Race has never been in the background in Mississippi. The whites do not like the blacks, and the blacks do not trust the whites. This is still apparent today in the recent furor over Mississippi senator Trent Lott's racial comments and subsequent stepping down from his influential top post of Speaker in the United States Senate. Racial issues had been simmering on the back burner for many years in Mississippi, but after World War II, they came to a head. Black men had helped fight and win the war, but they had been totally segregated in the armed forces, and after the war, blacks knew it was time for a change.
A number of blacks who became civil rights leaders in Mississippi were also veterans of World War II. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People leader Aaron Henry of Clarksdale spent three years in the armed services, part of it in an experimentally integrated unit in Hawaii. An NAACP member who later worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Cleveland's Amzie Moore reacted strongly when he was plucked from the segregated [Mississippi] Delta and deposited in a segregated unit in the Pacific. Moore explained, "Here I'm being shipped overseas, and I been segregated from this man whom I might have to save or he save my life. I didn't fail to tell it." To make matters worse, one of Moore's responsibilities as a soldier was to assist in a move to counter Japanese propaganda by speaking to black servicemen and assuring them that conditions for black troops would improve in the United States after the war (Cobb 211).
The 50s and 60s became a time of dissent and revolution for the blacks of America, and Mississippi was no different. Blacks had been persecuted since the Civil War, and even though they were guaranteed the right to vote, most blacks could not place a vote during an election in the state.
In the 1950s, Mississippi was 45% black, but only 5% of voting age blacks were registered to vote. Some counties did not have a single registered black voter. Whites insisted that blacks did not want to vote, but this was not true. Many blacks wanted to vote, but they worried, and rightfully so, that they might lose their job. In 1962, over 260 blacks in Madison County overcame this fear and waited in line to register. More came the next day. Only seven got in to take the test over the two days, walking past a sticker on the registrar's office door that bore a Confederate battle flag next to the message "Support Your Citizens' Council" (Cozzens).
Blacks had to use separate dining and toilet facilities from white people in the South, and they were punished for even looking at a white girls, just as 14-year-old Emmett Till was murdered for innocently whistling at a pretty white girl. Anne Moody remembers hearing…
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